Law and democracy are typically seen as interdependent: laws protect the fundamental rights that make democracy possible, while democracy ensures the legitimacy of law-making bodies. However,  the two principles conflict just as often as they complement one another. Where democracy calls for radical change at times, the law looks to precedent and tradition. Where democracy privileges majority opinion, constitutional law often prioritizes minority rights. Where democracy depends on vocal dissent, and even civil disobedience, courts and law enforcement officials typically aim to contain civic unrest. Law and democracy are central pillars of the modern nation-state, but the conflicts between them – at polling stations or protests, in courts or legislative chambers – betray fundamental tensions in political and social life.


at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
Pembroke Hall 305, 172 Meeting St.

Saturday, April 22nd

11:00 - 11:30am, Registration & Coffee

11:30-1:00pm Panel One Legitimacy, Conscience and Morality

  • Steve Coyne, “The Authority of Liberal Democratic States.”
  • Nathaniel Mull, “Taking Conscience Seriously: Religious Belief and the Obligation to Obey the Law.”
  • Jesse George-Nichol, "'Certain Ill-Considered Phrases': Edward Bates, Restrained Manhood, and the
    Disunionist Dangers of Radical Rhetoric.”

1:00-2:00pm Lunch

2:00-3:30pm Panel Two Narratives of Law & Democracy: Fact & Fiction

  • Andrew Alquesta, “'Less a Narration than a Reference': History, Facts, and Fiction in Billy Budd.”
  • Magana Kabugi,  “Black Comics and the Foundations of Civil Rights Solidarity.”
  • Joel Collins Sati, “Othered Borders: The Illegal as Normative Metaphor.”

3:30-4:00pm Coffee Break

 4:00-5:30pm Keynote Session Democracy Through and Against the Law

  • Dr. M. Ali Kadivar, Brown U Postdoctoral Fellow, International & Public Affairs. “Sticks, Stones, and Molotov Cocktails: Unarmed Collective Violence and Democratization.”
  • Dr. Robyn Schroeder, Brown U Postdoctoral Fellow, Public Humanities. "Unamendable: Curating the Constitution in the 21st Century."

7:00-8:30pm Dinner at Flatbread Pizza for Conference Participants

Sunday, April 23rd

9:30-11:00am Panel Three Legal Movements: From Radicalism to New Conservatism

  • Robert Gelles, “Constructing the Limits of Democracy: Entextualizing Jurisdiction in the Case of ‘One Person-One Vote.’”
  • [CANCELLED]Lauren Tallevi Meyer, “Florynce Kennedy's Black Feminist Jurisprudence in the Movement for Reproductive Justice before Roe, 1969-1973.”
  • Maayan Sudai, "Revisiting the Limits of Professional Autonomy: The Intersex Rights Movement's Path to Demedicalization."
  • Calvin Payne-Taylor, “The Capuciati of Le Puy-en-Velay:The democratic legacy of the Peace of God movement in late twelfth-century France”

 11:00-11:30am Break

11:30-1:00pm Panel Four Balance of Powers: Rules and Customs

  • Udit Bhatia, “The Epistocratic Second Chamber.
  • Joshua Basseches, “How the Legislative Process Really Works: “Buffering Opportunities” as Informal Mechanisms for the Concentrated Control of Lawmaking.”
  • [CANCELLED] Robinson Woodward-Burns, “From the States to the Nation through the Nineteenth Amendment.


This conference is made possible through support from the following Brown University departments and centers: History, Italian Studies, American Studies, English, Anthropology, Sociology, Political Science, Religious Studies, Modern Culture and Media, Philosophy, Classics, Comparative Literature, Hispanic Studies, Middle East Studies, the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, the Pembroke Center, the Cogut Center for the Humanities, and the Brown Legal History Workshop.


Steve Coyne is a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of Toronto. He specializes in moral and political philosophy. His dissertation examines the ways in which persons and states can influence the moral duties of others. Aside from his dissertation project, he writes and teaches courses on privacy and liberalism.

Nathaniel Mull is a fifth-year Ph.D candidate in political theory at Columbia University. His research interests include medieval and early modern theories of natural law, secular-ecclesiastical relations, and freedom of conscience. His dissertation research focuses on the development of the secular concept of the state in the works of early modern natural law theorists, including Francisco de Vitoria, Francisco Suárez, Richard Hooker, Hugo Grotius, and John Locke.

Jesse George-Nichol is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Virginia working with Elizabeth Varon and Gary Gallagher. Her dissertation, entitled “‘It is for this party…to save the country’: The Constitutional Union Party and the Fate of Compromise,” explores the long-neglected Constitutional Union Party movement during the election of 1860 and the secession crisis. In it, she argues that the Constitutional Union Party was far from an obsolete or doomed political crusade; instead its 1860 campaign self-consciously laid the groundwork for the powerful—if ultimately unsuccessful—Union movement in the Upper South during the secession crisis. She is originally from North Carolina and has a B.A. in history from Princeton University.

Udit Bhatia a doctoral candidate at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Oxford. His research interests lie at the intersections of democratic theory, political representation and social epistemology. He is currently examining the exclusion of persons from democratic citizenship on the basis of epistemic inferiority. Among other things, this project engages in a comparative study of Constitutions to understand ways in which the 'incompetence' of citizens has been used to justify their exclusion from a greater share of political power.

Joshua Basseches is a 3rd-year PhD student in the Sociology department at Northwestern University. His research interests lie at the intersection of political sociology (including social movements and collective behavior), environmental policy, and the sociology of law. Specifically, he is interested in the legislative policymaking process, especially its informal aspects, and how social movements and interest groups interact with it – influencing policy outcomes to varying degrees. Substantively, he is interested in legislation to combat climate change, which, in the U.S. context, has been enacted almost exclusively at the subnational (state) level. Therefore, for his dissertation, he plans to do a comparative study of several U.S. states, and investigate how similarities and differences across state-level legislative institutions affect the policymaking influence of environmental social movement organizations.

Robinson Woodward-Burns is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, where he researches American constitutional thought and development, federalism, and race and citizenship. His dissertation studies how state constitutional revision has preempted national constitutional change in America, using an original dataset of all 354 proposed state constitutions from 1776-2016 and a series of chronological case studies of state constitutional revision. His article on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s political thought recently appeared in Polity. He holds an M.A. from the University of Maryland and a B.A. from the College of William and Mary.

Robert Gelles is a first year PhD student in the anthropology department at the University of California, Irvine. His research focuses specifically on the politics of communicative process in United States-based conservative legal activism, with broader anthropological interests in language, law, and representation. Previously, Rob worked as a legal assistant for an environmental nonprofit in Chicago, providing support for clean water, clean transportation, and natural resources litigation.

Lauren Meyer is a doctoral candidate in African American Studies and American Studies at Yale University, also pursuing certification in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Her dissertation examines the work of black women lawyers and the campaign for black women's citizenship during the long civil rights and women's liberation movements of the 20th century. She previously earned a M.Ed from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a BA from Boston College.

Maayan Sudai is an SJD candidate at Harvard Law School and a Student Fellow in the program on science technology and society (STS) in Harvard Kennedy School. She holds both a B.A and an LL.B from the University of Haifa, as well as an LL.M from Harvard Law School.Maayan’s current research agenda examines the interaction between law, science and society, mainly through a critical lens and combining multiple disciplines, such as history of medicine, law and social change, health law and bioethics, and STS studies. After serving as a leading advocate for the intersex rights’ movement in Israel, Maayan’s dissertation explores the legal struggles of patient advocacy movements against medical institutions in the US, and the way in which such movements use law to regulate the conduct of medical profession. 

Calvin Payne-Taylor is a second-year doctoral student in late medieval and early modern European History at the University of California, Berkeley. His research centers on the construction of religious peace and religious violence in theology, law/politics, and culture. He also works with Reformation-era theologies and devotional practices in German and French lands, and religion’s intersections with scientific practices, the esoteric tradition, alchemy and the occult. He is currently working on iconoclastic acts and speech acts in the early German Reformation and their interplay with the eschatology of destroying and re-imagining political communities. This project brings together radical Protestant biblical exegesis, the theology of the last things (eschata), and sixteenth-century interpretations of divine law and judgement.

Andrew Alquesta is a third-year PhD candidate in the Tufts English Department. He earned a BA in English and political science from UConn and an MA in English from Tufts. Before entering graduate school, he worked as a consultant, helping organize political campaigns across the country on behalf of labor unions. He now teaches first year writing at Tufts, and his research interest include nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, democracy, totalitarianism, representation, and political comedy.

Magana Kabugi is a second-year student pursuing his Ph.D. in English and African American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt University. He received his B.A. in literature from American University in 2014. His research interests broadly include post-Civil Rights era African American politics and cultural studies, Black leadership in the United States, and the politics of Black media (e.g. literature, television, film and journalism). His current research explores the role that Black comics and cartoonists played in forming Black political subjectivity and racial solidarity during the American Civil Rights Movement. Magana is also an aspiring cartoonist himself and has illustrated three children’s books that were recently published in South Africa.

Joel Collins Sati is a first-year Ph.D student in the Jurisprudence and Social Policy program at UC Berkeley. Sati’s research is in legal philosophy and epistemic justice, with a focus on normative citizenship as it relates to marginalized peoples. His previous work has dealt with the political situation of illegalized immigrants. In addition to academic work, Sati, an immigrant from Kenya, has also worked with local and national immigrants rights organizations such as CASA de Maryland, African Communities Together, and the New York Immigration Coalition. Sati received his B.A., summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, in philosophy from the City College of New York, CUNY.


Keynote Panelists

Dr. Mohammad Ali Kadivar is a postdoctoral fellow at Watson Institute in Int'l and Public Affairs. He holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and earned a MA and BA in political science from University of Tehran in Iran. His work contributes to political and comparative-historical sociology by exploring the interaction between protest movements and democratization. This work grows out of his experience as a participant-observer of the pro-democracy movement in Iran, but his research agenda moves outward from this case to explore these issues on a global scale, using case studies, comparative-historical methods, and statistical analyses. Kadivar’s research has been published in the American Sociological Review, and Social Forces, and has won awards from the Collective Behavior and Social Movement (CBSM)Comparative Historical SociologyGlobal and Transnational SociologySociology of Development, and Peace, War and Social Conflict sections of the American Sociological Association (ASA).

Dr. Robyn Schroeder, is a post-doctoral research fellow at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage. Her professional background in museum education, along with her cultural history dissertation research on popular constitutional sentiment over cases spanning the long sweep of U.S. history, orient her toward questions of public political knowledge formation, in past and present. She holds a Ph.D in American Studies and an M.A. in Public Humanities, from Brown University. Her current research project theorizes and explains the history of the public humanities as a scholarly field, and includes fieldwork in managing project-based learning experiments.

Panel Chairs

Katie Fitzpatrick, co-organizer and panel chair, is a PhD Candidate in English at Brown University. Her dissertation, “Between Law and Justice: Legal Authority, Liberal Democracy, and Postwar Fiction,” considers how legal crises shaped the post-WWII political novel. Her scholarly articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Post45 and Twentieth-Century Literature, and her book reviews have appeared in Public Books, The Point Magazine, and Novel: A Forum on Fiction. For the 2017/2018 academic year, she will be a Visiting Assistant Professor in the English Department at Muhlenberg College.

Jonathan Lande, co-organizer and panel chair, works toward his PhD in History at Brown University, studying the African Diaspora and the U.S. Civil War. In 2016, he won the Du Bois-Wells Graduate Student Paper Prize from the African American Intellectual History Society and the William Holmes Paper Prize from the Southern Historical Association. Jonathan’s current project, “Disciplining Freedom,” analyzes the roots of resistance among black deserters and mutineers in the Union army and the significance of their rebellions, courts-martial trials, and punishments to the meaning of freedom. His recent article in the Journal of Social History, “Trials of Freedom: African American Deserters during the U.S. Civil War,” delves into part of this story. In 2017, he will begin teaching courses in African American and African history at Tougaloo College in Mississippi as a Brown-Tougaloo Teaching Fellow.

Sara Ludin, co-organizer and panel chair, is a PhD Candidate in Jurisprudence and Social Policy at the University of California Berkeley, and Visiting Research Fellow in History at Brown. Her dissertation “The Reformation Suits: Peace, Property, and the Politics of Difference in a Sixteenth-Century German Imperial Court” uses court records to examine the role of litigation in producing the legal categories essential for adjudicating confessional difference in the early Reformation period.

Daniel Platt, panel chair, is a graduate student in American Studies at Brown University. His research considers the legal history of credit relations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the cultural history of ideas about race, market, and selfhood. He has presented work at the Business History Conference, the American Bar Foundation, and the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies in Berlin. In 2016-2017, he held the John E. Rovensky Fellowship in U.S. Business and Economic History, and in 2017-2018 he will join Brown’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice as an Affiliated Graduate Fellow.

past conferences

In April 2016, we hosted our first annual legal history graduate student conference. Drawing an interdisciplinary set of graduate students from all over the world who study the legal past, the conference provided a space for students to explore questions of methodology across a diverse set of panels:

  • Law, Labor, and Commerce
  • The Status of the Human in Law
  • Legal Knowledge Networks
  • Law and Empire
  • plus, a faculty panel on "Legal Sources and the Law's Archive" 

For the full 2016 schedule, please see here.